Mid-Atlantic shuts down ahead of huge snow warning
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) – Life in the nation’s capital ground to a halt Friday as steady snow fell, the beginning of a storm that forecasters said could be the biggest for the city in modern history.
A record 2 1/2 feet or more was predicted for Washington. More than 8 inches had already fallen in some D.C. areas by midnight and 10 inches was reported in Pittsburgh as the blizzard blew into the Mid-Atlantic region, reducing visibility. Big amounts of snow were expected throughout the region.
Authorities blamed the storm for hundreds of accidents and the deaths of father-son Samaritans in Virginia.
Several thousand people in West Virginia and Pennsylvania had lost electricity and more outages were expected. A hospital fire in D.C. sent about three dozen patients scurrying from their rooms to safety in a basement. The blaze started when a snow plow truck caught fire near the building, but no injuries were reported.
The region’s second snowstorm in less than two months could be “extremely dangerous,” the National Weather Service said. Meteorologist Kevin Whitt in Sterling, Va., said 4 inches had fallen in the Baltimore area and forecasters expect snowfall rates to increase overnight, up to 2 inches per hours, until daybreak.
“Things are fairly manageable, but trees are starting to come down,” said D.C. fire department spokesman Pete Piringer.
The heavy, wet snow and strong winds threatened to clog roads and paralyze the region’s transportation and retail.
Airlines canceled flights, schools closed and the federal government sent workers home, where they could be stuck for several days in a region ill-equipped to deal with so much snow. Some area hospitals asked people with four-wheel-drive vehicles to volunteer to pick up doctors and nurses to take them to work.
The National Zoo closed early and the Smithsonian museums were to close Saturday. U.S. Park Police spokesman Sgt. David Schlosser said the Lincoln Memorial and other monuments in Washington would remain open as long as conditions allowed.
Gilles Conti, scrambled in vain to find a way to get to Los Angeles from Dulles International Airport in suburban Washington, where all flights through Saturday afternoon were canceled.
“I’m just going to wait, I mean, what can I do?” he said. “I’m going to go back to the hotel I was in and I guess I’m going to stay there.”
Amtrak stopped most trains heading south from Washington.
Before the heavy snow started falling, shoppers jammed aisles and emptied stores of milk, bread and shovels.
There were 20 to 30 people waiting when a Trader Joe’s in Falls Church, Va., opened at 8 a.m.
Errol Bailey, a 55-year-old tailor who works in northern Virginia, said he had stocked up on food at his home in Largo, Md.
“I’ve got some cashews, some orange juice, some bread, cheese and I’m about to pick up a bottle of wine here now,” Bailey said.
Many shoppers found they were too late.
At a Safeway in Hanover, Md., there wasn’t a single egg in the store, and only a few bottles of milk remained.
“I’ve come from two other places that are out of milk and sour cream,” said Cheryl Conner, 50, of Hanover. “This one’s out of sour cream, too, it’s crazy.”
Conner said the snow was altering her weekend plans. “I told my husband, we’re not having a Super Bowl party,” she said. “No one can get up our driveway.”
As heavy snow fell at an Indianapolis airport, Colts fans arrived early hoping they could still catch flights to Miami, where the Super Bowl was to be held. Most direct flights were on time, but travelers passing through Philadelphia and Washington had to make other arrangements.
Metro, the Washington-area rail system, said ridership Friday morning was down, a sign people were heeding official warnings to stay home.
In western Virginia, a tractor-trailer struck and killed a father and son who had stopped to help another driver who had wrecked in snow on Interstate 81, Virginia State Police said. William Edward Smith Jr., 25, of Mooresburg, Tenn., and 54-year-old William Edward Smith Sr. of Sylva, N.C., died at the scene, authorities said.
Across the region, transportation officials were deploying thousands of trucks and had hundreds of thousands of tons of salt at the ready. Several states exhausted or expected to exhaust their snow removal budgets.
“This is not a good mix,” said Joan Morris, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation. “Heavy, wet snow with gusting winds is going to make it a very tough storm for us. I expect visibility will be very poor in spots, and we’ll have to deal with drifting snow.”
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who has been in office less than a month, declared his second snow emergency, authorizing state agencies to assist local governments. Then he appeared on The Weather Channel to talk about it.
Blizzard warnings were also in effect for much of Delaware and southern New Jersey from Friday afternoon to Saturday night, with strong winds and blowing, drifting snow.
Philadelphia could get about a foot of snow and up to 20 inches was expected in the Pittsburgh area.
The storm comes less than two months after a Dec. 19 storm dumped more than 16 inches of snow on Washington. Snowfalls of this magnitude – let alone two in one season – are rare in the area. According to the National Weather Service, Washington has gotten more than a foot of snow only 13 times since 1870.
The heaviest on record was 28 inches in January 1922. The biggest snowfall for the Washington-Baltimore area is believed to have occurred in 1772, before official records were kept, when as much as 3 feet fell in the Washington-Baltimore area, an epic event George Washington and Thomas Jefferson mentioned in their diaries.
In Washington, some made the best of it Friday evening by grabbing drinks with friends at local bars.
Jukka Strand, 28, is from Finland and said he was the only one to work at his World Bank office Friday.
“I’m very disappointed about how Americans deal with snowfall,” Strand said. “Even if it was (30 inches), it shouldn’t cause such chaos.”
“It’s just snow,” said Beth Wolfram, 30, a government contractor. “It’s not like it’s attacking us.”
Associated Press writers Brett Zongker in Washington, Kathleen Miller in Falls Church, Va., David Dishneau in Chantilly, Va., Ben Nuckols in Hanover, Md., and Steve Szkotak in Richmond, Va., contributed to this report.